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THE PYRAMID                             53
contained nothing but debris and dust. At the farther side another small passage had been cut into the rock; they could enter it only by crawling on their stomachs, like snakes, with faces a few inches from the floor. Even this subterranean tunnel yielded nothing, for it abruptly terminated in a solid wall of rock.
Remained the shaft. It was almost entirely perpendicular and could be explored only by letting down one man at a time, suspended by ropes, into its inky depths. After sixty feet of descent a small chamber was encountered, a roughly hewn enlargement of the shaft. The latter was continued again from the floor of the chamber, leading apparently endlessly downwards. It looked like a deep well and this, in fact, the men decided that it was. They never completed its exploration.
Anyway, the vast treasures whkh, in their imagination, littered the Pyramid, did not exist.
Thus ended Caliph Al Mamoun's great adventure in reopening the Great Pyramid. The learned Arab historians of to-day will give you many variants of this last story, but these are the really authentic facts.
Centuries rolled over the truncated head of the Pyramid after Haroun Al Raschid's son forced a hole into its northern side. Legend soon enwrapped it with superstitious dread and surrounded it with ghostly horrors, so that the Arabs shunned its interior as they shunned the leper. Only a few venturesome souls ever explored its heart and depth again. For the most part its dark passages and bare chambers lay undisturbed in majestic silence. Not till the second half of the eighteenth century, when stolid, matter-of-fact, unsuperstitious Europeans began to tread the surrounding sands, did the hammer and chisel of the excavator resound once more within the ancient building.
Enterprising Nathaniel Davison, His Britannic Majesty's Consul at Algiers in the seventeen-sixties, took a long vacation and went off to Egypt, where he gazed speculatively at the Great Pyramid. He knew that the ancient Egyptians usually buried a certain amount of jewels with their illustrious dead. He knew, too, that everyone said the Pyramids were just gigantic tombs.
And he had discovered, in the open doorway of the King's